Skating is a maturing sport in India, as yet without a palpable community. In cities children learn it in their summer breaks. In his new film, writer-director Amole Gupte uses inline skating as a vehicle for freedom. In the California of the 1970s, skateboarding was counterculture. A group of boys known as Z-Boys revolutionized it with an edgy aesthetic and new technology such as urethane wheels that connected with concrete in a way old metal and rubber wheels could not. It continues to be an expensive and inventive sport, heavily dependent on technology.

Gupte’s film is far from the counterculture that the Z-Boys represented. The rebellion in his film is rooted to a desire for freedom from grim circumstances, and to plain human courage and will. It is about underprivileged children and their routine enslavement, and has a big beating heart.

In dramatic pitch, Hawaa Hawaai is much more brassy than Stanley Ka Dabba, Gupte’s first film as director, also about an underprivileged child affirming life. The emphasis on melodrama lends the film a soap-operatic quality it doesn’t need, because the story has a linear, classic underdog graph, leading up to a climactic race—a Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar, but with a socialist engagement with poverty and its trappings.

A still from the film

Cinematographers Amol Gole and Vikas Sivaraman capture the fluid speed of skating. Intelligent sound design adds to the sport’s character, evoking both a sense of danger and uplift—the collective thumps and whacks consistently adding to the mood, especially in the skating arena at night.

Unsuited to a film so integrally related to the sport, Gupte does not get into its nitty-gritty, glossing over its nuances entirely. The teacher reiterates a few basic techniques, mostly related to body posture, through the film. He is more counsellor than expert in the sport. Saleem’s uneven performance adds to the coach not having a distinct grain to his character.

The director (also the writer of the film) has a socialist zeal, in tone and treatment harking back to Hindi cinema of the 1950s. The underprivileged guy on the margins, in this case a child, is the hero. To leaders, the poor is invisible. There is humour and grit in the downtrodden. Gupte’s heart and intent shine, although the film’s tear-jerker quality gets annoyingly quaint, especially in the final half-hour of the running time.

Partho, who made his debut as an actor in Stanley Ka Dabba, is visibly much more aware of the job of an actor than before. Convincing and efficient, he keeps the interest in Arjun going despite all the surrounding melodrama.

The stars though—besides the wonderfully jugaad (improvised) skates—are Gochi, Bhura, Abdul and Bindaas Murugan. Two of the boys are part of Aseema, Gupte’s theatre workshop for underprivileged children. It is obvious the four boys are having immense fun in front of the camera. Their effortless spunk and the sorrow beneath it made me smile as well as feel a lump in my throat.

Hawaa Hawaai needed some sparseness and quiet, but even with all the noise, you will love Arjun and his friends, and cheer them on.

Hawaa Hawaai releases in theatres on Friday.

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